While 3D TV hasn’t been as great a success as expected, it seems the world is bypassing 3D for virtual reality with lots of hype and enthusiasm surrounding VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. While these headsets are very expensive and require a powerful PC to take advantage of them, a more available method of enjoying VR experiences exist.
In 2014, Google introduced the Cardboard, a device consisting of a cardboard body, a small bit of conductive foam and two plastic lenses which uses a smartphone display to produce a stereoscopic display. With the sensors in the phone, a limited VR experience can be produced using the sensors to detect the rotation of the head and updating the viewport accordingly. Additionally, Cardboard is also the name of the SDK which can be used to build such virtual reality applications.
While the concept is simple, the original cardboard device was quite lacking – it required the user to hold the assembly in front of their eyes, it had hard edges which are not comfortable for long viewing sessions and it did not have any adjustments at all which lead to eye strain. Based on the concept, many other manufacturers have stepped up with better designs based on a similar principle to bring VR to the masses.
DeePoon is a Chinese manufacturer focusing on VR products, and the DeePoon V3 is a device suitable for most smartphones, offering a more comfortable VR experience with features such as adjustable interpupillary distance, adjustable focus, elastic headband to secure the viewer to the head, with padded cushions and breathable vented interior.
Thanks to GearBest for providing this unit for review – read on to find out what’s included and how well it works with a Xiaomi Redmi Note 2.
The item comes in a natural cardboard coloured box with monochrome printing, which is manufacturer sealed. My unit has the seal broken at one end, likely for quality control checks. The item is dated 9th May 2016, which indicates this item is very new.
The top of the box has a line-art pictorial depicting the unit inside.
The other sides of the box have the company logo, handling instructions and a small serial number label.
Inside the box, everything is neatly packed in a grey plastic tray with some extra bubble wrap to keep it safe while in transit. As can be seen, some basic assembly is required.
The most striking item is the viewer body itself. From the front, we see the brand printed on a spring-loaded arm which holds the phone in position. The phone itself rests on the black platform, which is coated in a thin rubber to ensure it is held securely without damage.
The spring loaded arm is quite firm, and the contact area is made of a pliable rubber, thus accommodating to phones of different thicknesses and designs.
From the top-side, we can see an adjustment wheel for focus, which causes the black plastic platform to extend or retract into the white plastic body. Also visible is the over-head strap mounting anchor. Finally, we can see the cushioned edge, which rests upon a soft plastic body similar to full face goggles. Behind that is the black foam that covers the breathable vent holes inside to limit stray light intrusion.
The underside has some basic specs printed, and two relatively “loose” sliders to adjust the lateral position of each lens independently, thus allowing for the adjustment of interpupillary distance to the user’s eyes.
The cushion can be seen to have some thin suede/velour finish with foam body. The lenses rest inside the goggles with the head-strap anchors on each side behind the surround. The lenses themselves appear to be plastic, and they have a plastic protective film which needs to be removed prior to use.
Vent holes can be seen in the plastic in the side to maintain a comfortable atmosphere inside the glasses and avoid fogging.
Also included is the DeePoon BR (Bluetooth Remote) which has a power and menu button on the top, along with an analog joystick.
The front portion has two buttons – one to cancel/go back and the other to make the selection.
The unit requires two AAA batteries to operate, which are not included.
Also included are the elastic headband straps which have velcro ends which allow for the size of the headband to be easily adjusted. A split foam triangle is also supplied which can be fitted to the inside track near the spring-loaded phone-retaining mechanism to provide some scratch protection for the bottom edge of your phone.
Three leaflets are included – one warranty card, one quick start guide and one guide for the Bluetooth remote. All remotes are only in Chinese, which is a bit of a shame for me as I can’t read Chinese, but at least the diagrams and QR codes can be used as guidance.
Once fully configured, the viewer looks as above. When weighed, the viewer alone weighs 279 grams exactly, as claimed in the product literature, which is relatively lightweight.
Setup and User Experience
The first step in the set-up process was to pair the Bluetooth remote control to the phone. As the instructions were in Chinese, which I could not understand, I had to do it blind. A method which seemed to work involved:
- Pressing the power button until the green LED flashes rapidly, then flashes slowly.
- Press the menu button.
- Search for DeePoon-BR from the phone and click to pair.
- Acknowledge pairing by quickly pressing on the power button on the remote.
The package doesn’t stop at just the hardware, with a special 3D viewing software provided by DeePoon. Installation of the app starts with scanning the QR code in the manual as the app is not available in the Google Play store, and following the link.
The download is an .apk file and needs to be executed to install it. Installation from non-market sources needs to be enabled for the app to install.
It is at this point that things go a little south, as the app requests a lot of permissions, many of which it doesn’t really need and shouldn’t be asking. The list of (consolidated) permissions includes:
- Edit and read text messages
- Modify system settings
- Change audio settings
- Enable app debugging
- Full network access
- Draw over other apps
- Approximate & precise GPS location
- Read phone status and identity
- Read running apps
- Find, use, add and remove accounts on device
- View, connect and discover WLAN connections
- Change network connectivity
- Run at start-up
- Access, read, modify or delete contents of your SD card
- Directly call phone numbers
- Control vibration
- Record audio
- Pair with Bluetooth devices
- Prevent phone from sleeping
Why should a simple player app request so many permissions, especially phone calling/SMS, accounts and location based permissions? I personally did not want to install this app given the malware-like risk it may pose to the phone, as it requested virtually every permission aside from root. Regardless, I did go ahead with the installation so that I could review the application.
The app starts with a quick run-down of its features with a skip button on the intro in the upper right corner. Then you are taken to the home screen of the app which has numerous demo clips, including 3D films, 3D models, virtual reality and other acclaimed apps and films. Unfortunately, the app interface is all in Chinese. To some extent, many of the features can still be explored even with the wrong language.
One frustrating feature is that many of the listed demos do not work and fail to stream. Some of these are especially curious entries as they are movies which they do not appear to have the copyright permissions to distribute being listed on there. For example, here’s an attempt to watch the Fast and the Furious 7 which fails with a connection error.
In my desperation, I did try to rummage amongst the category tabs to go to the “My” tab (first one), where you can go to the shop to buy VR glasses, sign up for an account to access extra features and toggle playback preferences. I found settings easily as it was in English, but sadly, there was no language option.
I did manage to enjoy a few demos, which included this virtual tour of a tourist destination in China. As this was a 360 degree video, it was presented as stereoscopic 3D video and required a push on the OK button on the controller to bring up the playback preferences, and then selecting the second option from the left to have it “unfolded” as a 360 degree equirectangular projection video, to have the field-of-view changed by turning your head around.
The result is the video playing in left-right eye mode. The resulting views were quite interesting to experience because of the ability to navigate around by turning your head intuitively.
However, things were not perfect. It became apparent that VR is one of the applications where having a high resolution phone screen can be important, as the resolution of the screen resulted in an obvious screen-door effect being visible. Keeping your screen clean is also very important, as specks of dirt and dust become immediately visible through the lenses. Phone performance is also important, as I did feel a little dizzy after a while due to the latency between detecting a head-turn and updating the display. Further to that, the quality of the video is necessarily limited by the bandwidth rate and processing power of the phone, and because a “regular” 1080/4k “video” represents the full 360 degree view, you’re only viewing a small slice of the video blown-up to the full field of view resulting in compression artifacts becoming visible. Changing videos or demos constantly requires removing the phone from the viewer, as no 3D navigation system is offered, which can get frustrating fairly quickly. Needless to say, VR on mobile phones is not fully developed yet, so these issues are more intrinsic to the present-day experience and less-so the fault of the device.
When it comes to the device, on the whole, it is a lot more comfortable than a regular Google Cardboard-like device. Being hands-free is a good thing, and the cushion around the goggles generally works well. The device, however, is shaped a little large, so the cushion rests on the peaks of my cheekbone, which can get painful after a while. The headbands, while elasticated, seem to be a little on the short side, resulting in it being adjusted to its extreme ends to ensure a comfortable fit on my head that was not too tight. The lenses were of better quality, however, did exhibit some colour fringing in the corners and slight focus issues depending on the the position of the front stage because the focus mechanism does not seem to ensure the phone is perfectly perpendicular to the lenses. I did also experience some fogging of the device (being winter, this can be expected) despite the vents, and the inner lenses did get a little close to the eyes with marks from where my eyelashes contacted the lens.
From what it seems, I would recommend this for those with at least 1080p screens of 5.5″ or bigger, as the 1080p screen on the Redmi Note 2 was only just sufficient, and the 5.5″ size did result in the outer corners of the field of view being “black”. Smaller phones and lower resolution screens are unlikely to provide satisfactory performance.
In all, the viewer itself is an improvement over most cardboard-like viewers, however, the software seems to be a little bit of a miss especially for international users.
Modifications, Other Apps and Calculations
Of course, a viewer like this is not limited to just use with their provided apps. In theory, any app which provides a stereoscopic image as left-right pairs can be used with a phone. This includes Cardboard, Youtube 360 videos, Orbulus (photo spheres), various travel VR experiences such as UAE VR or even simulated Duck Pond VR.
Most of these apps are built around the Cardboard SDK, and their means of interacting with the app involves touching a piece of conductive foam which causes a simulated touch on the front panel display.
Unfortunately, the supplied remote is useless with all of the Cardboard apps as they do not recognize an OK as a touch on the screen. Further to this, the viewer itself had no mechanism to provide the screen touch functionality, so a hack was needed.
If you’re like me, you won’t have conductive foam at your house, but you might have some desoldering braid. I found that moving this around and gluing it along the bottom edge was enough to provide the screen-touch functionality to enable the DeePoon V3 to be used with Google Cardboard apps. Foil may also work.
I suppose this is where it becomes necessary to explain why a high screen resolution is necessary for good quality VR. As the screen is split into two halves, each eye only gets half the resolution. Assuming the whole half of the screen is used, the resulting per-eye resolutions are:
- Phone Screen 1280 x 720 -> Per-eye resolution 640 x 720
- Phone Screen 1980 x 1080 -> Per-eye resolution 960 x 1080
- Phone Screen 3840 x 2160 -> Per-eye resolution 1920 x 2160
When viewing a 16:9 3D stereo video, because of the need to maintain the aspect ratio, each eye only has a 16:9 active portion in the middle with black bars top and bottom. The resulting per-eye resolutions are:
- Phone Screen 1280 x 720 -> Per-eye resolution 640 x 360
- Phone Screen 1980 x 1080 -> Per-eye resolution 960 x 540
- Phone Screen 3840 x 2160 -> Per-eye resolution 1920 x 1080
As a result, only a 4k phone screen will deliver the full high-definition resolution to each eye when viewing stereoscopic 3D footage. A regular full HD screen will not even deliver 720p quality, and a budget 720p screen only delivers SD quality.
Another complication comes in with the 360 video format. For a 360 degree video, the equirectangular projection is used which has a 2:1 aspect ratio and represents 360 degrees x 180 degrees. This is often coded at standard video widths of 1280, 1920 or 3840. Because our field of view is limited, we are only looking at a “slice” of this video at any time – say if we have a 90 degree horizontal and vertical field of view, each eye is seeing just:
- 360 Video 1280 x 640 -> Viewing area = 320 x 320
- 360 Video 1920 x 960 -> Viewing area = 480 x 480
- 360 Video 3840 x 1920 -> Viewing area = 960 x 960
As a result, in 360 degree video, with the present codec, phone processing power and internet bandwidth limitations, what you’re actually seeing in each eye could be less than standard definition, and does not reach high definition levels.
Aside from this, full VR/AR experiences are still limited by the computational abilities of phones because of the large textures required and intense processing to produce such fields of view and update them in realtime. Most mobile phones have displays in the 30-60Hz region, and so highly-responsive VR meets a hurdle here already. This is likely to improve in the future, however.
I did test the remote on Android and it does work for some navigation around the applications, but its usefulness is limited as most Cardboard SDK based apps will not recognize its inputs. I also tried pairing it with a PC but it wasn’t useful there.
While I didn’t intend on tearing it down for the purposes of the review, during the testing process, the front two buttons stopped working, despite still having a tactile “click” feel to them. I had to dismantle the remote in order to determine what went wrong and repair it.
The remote comes apart with the removal of one screw and unclipping the edges.
The board is based on a Beken BK2491 Bluetooth 2.0 HID chipset, with the antenna on the left side in the middle, and the joystick driving two potentiometers for analog control (although whether this is sent over Bluetooth is unknown).
The front button failure was traced to the elastomeric rubber contact sheet sliding down from its regular position, so it was not making contact with its button position. This was because the retaining stud was not sufficiently tall to keep the sheet in place. It was moved back into place and glued, which resolved the issue.
A look at the underside shows labelled programming contacts and a design date of 28th January 2016, making this a “cutting edge” product.
The DeePoon V3 is a much improved version of Google’s Cardboard, allowing those with larger and more powerful smartphones to experience 3D stereoscopic footage and VR in a simple and accessible manner. Its comfort improves upon the cardboard dramatically with hands-free operation thanks to an over-and-around head-strap, and also provides better quality lenses, with a cushioned goggle surround and adjustments to reduce eye strain by allowing for focus and interpupillary distance to be adjusted.
The bundle also comes with their own custom VR application, however, this and all supplied documentation was in Chinese, so unless you are proficient in Chinese, it’s not likely you will find it easy to use. Many of the demos resulted in connection errors and could not be loaded. Furthermore, the app requested too many permissions and I could not recommend users install it based on this permissions abuse.
However, it was found during the review that VR on mobile phones isn’t quite as mature as it might seem and instead it seems to sell based on its novelty factor. Having high-performance mobile phones with large high-resolution screens is required to make the most of the device. Further to this, some colour fringing was experienced at the extreme peripheries. The supplied remote was not compatible with Cardboard SDK based apps, and modification is required to simulate the screen touch functionality. The remote also required repair through the course of the review.
In order to get the most from this, it seems prudent that you:
- Use a smartphone with at least 1080p screen and at least 5.5″ in size, larger being slightly better to fill the field of view.
- Keep the screen clean, which is hard to do especially when finger-presses are required to navigate between apps and demos.
- Use headphones or earphones for audio, and have them ready before starting the application.
- Set the interpupillary distance to provide a comfortable view, and then close your eyes to relax the focus of your eyes to its most natural point, then adjust the focus to match this plane to avoid eye strain.
- Move around slowly to avoid motion sickness, ensuring your environment is free of obstacles.
- Take VR and 3D in short bursts to avoid headaches.